The Scottish Bagpipe
A cat cam fiddling
She cud sing naething but
A cat came fiddling
She could sing nothing but
Bagpipes are found in many countries besides Scotland, but they have become so linked with Scotland that the country and its ubiquitous instrument are practically synonymous. Pipes take many different shapes and forms, and though formerly used in pastoral celebrations, today they are used for every kind of festival occasion. And the piping in of the haggis on “Robbie Burns Night” is celebrated in whatever corner of the world Scots gather on January 25.
Q. How do you get two bagpipers to play in perfect unison?
Q. What’s the difference between a bagpipe and an onion?
Q. What’s the definition of a gentleman?
Q. How can you tell if a bagpipe is out of tune?
Q. What do you call ten bagpipes at the bottom of the ocean?
Q. Why do bagpipers walk when they play?
Q. What’s thе definition of a gentleman?
Q. What’s the difinition of “optimist”?
Q. How many bagpipers does it take to change a light
Bagpipes are the missing link between music and noise.
E. K. Kruger
The bagpipes are an instrument of torture consisting of a leaky bag and punctured pipes, played by blowing up the bag and placing the fingers over the wrong holes.
It’s an odd thing but a thousand bagpipers are no worse – if I may put it like that – than one. The noise doesn’t get any louder, only more edgy and irritable like live tinned bees, As the Duke of Wellington said: “I don’t know what they do to the enemy but I think I’ll go and lie down for a bit.”
Bring not a bagpipe to a man in trouble.
Although the early history of the bagpipe is still unclear, it seems likely that the instrument was first developed in pre-Christian times. It probably comes from something like a hornpipe. Where or when a bag was first attached to one of these instruments is likely to remain a mystery. The earliest secular reference to a bagpipe occurs around 400 BC, when Aristophanes, the Athenian poet joked that the pipers of Thebes blew pipes made of dogskin with chanters made of bone. Several hundred years later, Suetonius described the Roman Emperor Nero as a player of the tibia utricularius. The Romans may well have spread the pipes through the Roman Empire, but there is little evidence for this.
Prior to the 12th Century, only a few Pictish and Irish stone carvings record the continued existence of bagpipes during the Dark Ages. Ireland has references going back at least to the Middle Ages, as well as stone carvings which date back to the 8th Century.
An explosion of popularity seems to have occurred from around the 12th Century; the tune used by Robert Burns, “Hey Tutti Taiti”, is traditionally said to have been the tune played as Robert the Bruce’s troops marched to the Battle of Bannockburn in 1314.
During this time, Europe underwent a flourishing of art and culture as her horizons were expanded with the crusades. The bagpipes were no exception, and many of Europe’s unique bagpipes began to develop around this time. The role of the bagpipe in Britain was as a common adjunct to religious festivals. Pipers also became part of the travelling minstrel class, acting as carriers of news, gossip and music around the country. In the Scottish Highlands, the pipers started to displace the harpers, the chief musicians since Roman times, round about the 16th century.
Soon, Scottish Highland pipes were well established as military instruments. Their stirring music has been adopted by military bands all over the world. They have led Scottish soldiers into battle for centuries. In World Wars I and II, the ominous wail of the pipes that preceded the Highland charge of the kilted Scottish infantry regiments, often created panic among the enemy troops.
As Western classical music developed, bagpipes in many regions fell out of favour. But, with the growth of the British Empire, the Great Highland Bagpipe has become well-known world-wide. This surge in popularity, boosted by the huge numbers of pipers trained for the two World Wars, coincided with a decline in the popularity of many traditional forms of bagpipe throughout Europe.
In the Modern Era, the use of bagpipes has become a common tradition for military funerals and memorials in the Anglophone world. Weddings, dances and parties are also venues for piping, in fact any social event that can be given a lift by the addition of this unique instrumental music.
In English-speaking regions, a bagpipe player is known as a “bagpiper” or “piper,” and the family surname Piper derives from the latter term.
Dozens of types of bagpipes today are widely spread across Europe and the Middle East, as well as through much of the former British Empire. The name “bagpipe” has almost become synonymous with its best-known form, the Great Highland Bagpipe.
In the Great Highland Bagpipe world, there are hundreds of pipe bands registered with pipe band associations world wide, mostly averaging ten or twelve pipers. There are many more pipers who do not play with bands. Estimates for the number of GHB players worldwide usually suggest a figure between 10–50,000 players.
Traditionally, bagpipes provided music for dancing. This has declined today but has led to many types of pipes developing a performance-led tradition. Over the past 30 or so years, bagpipes have also made appearances in other forms of music, including rock, jazz, and classical music, notably with Paul McCartney’s “Mull of Kintyre” and the Peter Maxwell Davies composition Orkney Wedding, With Sunrise.
Bagpipes today are probably as popular as they have ever been in history; one Scottish maker produces forty sets of pipes per week for sale worldwide. Pipe band associations report continued growth and the number of commercial recordings of bagpipes continues to grow year on year.
In every country, the basic bagpipe comprised a bag with a chanter and one or more drones. Today, it is the Highland bagpipe or the piob-mhor ‘the Great Pipe’, which has emerged as the national instrument. These are blown by mouth and the bags were traditionally made from the skin of a sheep, although nowadays leather, rubber or other synthetic materials are used. The pipes themselves were originally made of bone or ivory, but hardwood is the modern choice. The melody is played on a reeded chanter leading down from the bag while the three drone pipes sit on the piper’s shoulder and provide a constant, steady sound as a background to the melody.
There are essentially two types of music played on the Highland pipes: the march, strathspey and reel variety, which were composed for military or social events, and the piobaireachd (pronounced “pee-broch”) which is the ‘symphony music’ of the pipes. This classical music is an art form which can compare to the music of any other country and most of it was composed 100 years before the piano and without written notation.
So while they did not invent bagpipes, Scots can fairly claim to have made them their own through keeping them alive as part of their musical tradition and by making them one of the outstanding parts of their culture.